Preparing for dry off - the nitty gritty

In last month's article we talked about drying off in terms of what to do ahead of time to be prepared. In this month’s article we discuss some of the theory around drying off and the different ways to approach it.

What cows to dry off when

As with everything in farming there are multiple ways to approach when and how you dry off.

Some farms pick a date that allows the cows sufficient rest and will dry off all the cows at the same time. This date obviously may change based on feed availability.

Other farms may dry-off light, young, or high somatic cell count cows early in batches but dry off the majority of the herd on a set date.

Still other farms dry off cows in multiple batches, determined by individual cow body condition scores and their expected calving dates. This is based on the knowledge that it takes a dry cow a certain number of days dry to put on one BCS. For example, it takes a cow in BCS 4 100 days to get to BCS 5 when she is being fed a typical dry cow ration. Drying cows off this way focuses on getting ALL cows to target body condition score at calving.

If you are not drying off to BCS and calving date it is worth having a think about whether you are set up to hit calving BCS targets. If you are not sure why the targets are important or are not sure where your herd is at in terms of BCS around calving it is worth having a talk with your vet.

How to actually get the girls to stop milking

There are many different ideas out there regarding how to best shut down the cows for dry-off. We recommend the following approach from SmartSAMM:

Cows producing less than 10L a day should be dried off abruptly. They should be milked as per normal up until they are dried off. They do not need to have their feed restricted before dry-off. After dry-off the cows should be restricted to around 8kgDM (of 11MJME/kgDM feed) per cow, per day for 7 to 14 days (for a 500kg cow) until swelling in their udders goes away.

Cows producing more than 10L per day will have a harder time drying-off. Their feed should be reduced by 30-50% for the 7 days before drying off. For a 500kg cow eating 11ME feed this would be around 10kgDM per day. After dry-off feed should be restricted for 7 to 14 days as above.

Avoid changing to once a day or skipping milkings leading up to dry off. It is not as effective at shutting down milk production as feed restriction and it increases the bulk tank somatic cell count and the risk of mastitis.

Dry cow treatments - what cows do I treat with what?

As many of you are aware there is increasing scrutiny on the use of antibiotics in food animals.

In the past many have used antibiotic dry cow therapy across the whole herd (blanket treatment).

Nowadays we need to have a justifiable reason for using blanket dry cow therapy because we have a very effective alternative for cows who do not have an existing intramammary infection. When there is no existing infection to cure, all we need to do is protect against new infections in the dry period. Teatseal is very effective at preventing new infections. It is as good as any of the antibiotic dry cow products for this purpose and gives longer protection than any of them.

There has been considerable confusion about the move away from blanket dry cow and what vets are now recommending. I have heard some farmers concerned that we will have to leave some cows completely unprotected during the dry period but this is definitely not the case. In general, we recommend that:

1. All cows who are high risk of having an existing intra-mammary infection be treated with antibiotic dry cow or dry cow plus teatseal (depending on the length of the dry period). The criteria for considering a cow high risk are:

· Any cow who has had a herd test over 150,000 on ANY herd test

· Any heifer (first-calver) who has had a herd test over 120,000 on ANY herd test

· Any cow or heifer who has a case of clinical mastitis at any time in the season,

· Any cows who do not have sufficient records e.g. recently brought in cows or cows missed off the herd tests because of tag issues.

2. Cows under 150,000 and heifers under 120,000 on EVERY herd test and who have not had a single case of clinical mastitis in the current season should be given teatseal alone.

3. Very rarely would we recommend leaving cows without any dry cow and/or teatseal.

The nitty gritty of drying off decisions can be complex, especially if you are trying a new approach. The purpose of the dry cow consult is to go through all this in detail so make sure you discuss any questions you have with your vet at the time.

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